When I was thirteen years old, I started going to bed with ropes and scarves tied tightly around my waist, believing that it would stop me from gaining weight in my sleep.
I would tie them so tightly that they would cut into my skin, forming a ridge of angry red scars along the tops of my hipbones and the small of my back.
I don’t know how my mother found out about what I was doing, but she did.
Obviously horrified and desperate to get me to stop, she was sensitive enough to know that depending on how she broached the subject, I might shrink further inside of myself.
So her approach was simple.
Instead of getting angry with me, or throwing out all of the things I used to harm myself, she would wait until I had gotten ready for sleep, and then gently knock on my bedroom door.
Sitting on the side of my bed, she would stroke my hair and softly ask if I had wrapped anything around my waist.
I would squirm and fight, never wanting to admit that I had, or confess how ugly and hated I felt on nights when I couldn’t bring myself to bind my skin.
Sometimes she would ask to see my stomach, although never in a confrontational or accusatory way. In a way that ached with a stark and simple love and sadness. The heartbreaking futility of knowing that your teenage daughter finds such monumental faults in the skin that you helped make and shape.
After I had either showed her my bare skin, or grudgingly removed the ties, she would take my hand in hers and ask me to tell her one thing that I loved about myself.
For many nights I dreaded this moment. A slight, cold sweat would break out on the back on my neck. I would push my face into my pillow and half-heartedly murmur something into its folds; gnash my teeth and force out a canned answer.
“The A on my math test,” was my garbled response.
But she would sit there, patient as a stone as I wrestled with the question, until finally, exhausted, I would whisper a truth.
“I love my hair.”
Even after I stopped going to bed with the scarves, my mother would come see me. Stroke my hair. Hold my hand. And ask me:
“Tell me one thing you love about yourself.”
As I grew older, I forgot about this nightly ritual. I left home, adopted new routines, and practiced new methods of self care.
But every so often, when my anxiety is particularly high, and I wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, I lie in bed, and breathe deeply.
And I imagine my mothers hand on mine, the tone of her voice, soothing.
And I tell her.